Water, water, everywhere…
Is water the solution to one of the biggest shortcomings of renewable energy?
When the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, these renewable energy sources don’t source much energy, so during those times home owners and businesses using alternative energy must instead draw more power from the grid.
Elon Musk believes the solution is to build a Giga-Factory in the desert of the western United States capable of producing as many Lithium Ion batteries under one roof as are currently being made – WORLDWIDE. He intends to then use those Lithium Ion batteries not just to power his fancy electric cars for the nouveau riche, but also to power big industrial batteries suitable for homes and businesses in a new product called Powerwall. This new product contains batteries people could load in the middle of the night when there is excess supply and draw from during the day when demand (and rates) are higher, or connect to renewable energy sources and use as a storage device.
But Aquion Energy, a company founded by Dr. Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science at Carnegie Mellon University, and backed by Bill Gates and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, has a different idea for how to store large amounts of energy in these same kinds of situations.
What’s different about the Aquion Energy solution compared to the Tesla Powerwall solution, is that it uses saltwater, which according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our oceans cover 71% of the earth’s surface and contain 95% of our water. Prices are reportedly are in the $1,000-$3,000 range and they say their batteries last longer than other battery technologies.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s solution uses expensive Lithium Ion batteries, proven to catch fire from time to time, difficult to make (Lithium mining is very water intensive and takes place typically in arid lands), the batteries often last 2-3 years (at least in laptop applications) and then unfortunately all too frequently end up in landfills. Prices are reportedly are in the $3,000-$3,500 range.
It seems like Tesla is pursuing more of a USA-centric approach while Aquion is seeking to go global more quickly, seeing its solution as potentially even more attractive for less-developed countries.
Is there room for both technologies in the marketplace?
Yes, I think so, but it will be interesting to see how the market develops.
One thing is for sure, greater availability of these kinds of systems and their ability to bring increased visibility to renewable energy and to bring down the costs of its application is a great thing!
Sources: CNBC, Tesla, and Aquion Energy